Although many nutritional supplements can be beneficial and support health, that is not always the case. In some circumstances, particular supplements can be highly counterproductive or even harmful. It is vital to be informed about potential complications to optimize your results and prevent a setback in your healing journey.
This discussion is an expansion from a previous web post on what do when nutritional supplements make you worse. Please refer back to that article for more in depth information about the whys and whats of intolerance to nutritional supplements. In this discourse, we will be focusing primarily only on some of the specific nutrients that have the capacity to be problematic and who is likely to have a negative experience.
However, to review from our former discussion, nutritional supplements can be counterproductive in the following primary ways.
Glutamate is an important excitatory neurotransmitter. However, in excess, it is an excitotoxin and can lead to a wide array of neurological and gastrointestinal symptoms like autism, migraines, anxiety disorders, restless legs, insomnia, OCD, seizures, abdominal pain, acid reflux, proliferation of pathogenic microbes, increased risk of stroke and much more, as discussed on the following page.
Histamine is also a vital excitatory neurotransmitter, but in excess it is toxic and contributes to many physiological and psychiatric symptoms, like migraines, insomnia, OCD, anxiety, flushing, sex or gambling addiction, high levels of fear, hives, gastrointestinal distress, excess sympathetic nervous system activity and more, which you can learn more about here.
Increases Norepinephrine & Triggers Stress Response System
Norepinephrine is another excitatory neurotransmitter that is toxic to the brain when in excess, leading to symptoms like insomnia, anxiety and fear, restlessness, impaired digestion, weakened immunity, and elevated blood sugar, to name a few. It sets off the stress response system. If it remains in excess, one remains in sympathetic stress continuously. Learn more about this on this page.
This issue tends to be more problematic for people who are undermethylators. Methylation is needed to get rid of norepinephrine.
Another critical neurotransmitter that regulates the autonomic nervous system and is vital for proper brain function, but when it is in excess, it overstimulates the sympathetic nervous system and results in symptoms like anxiety, fear, insomnia, depression and more.
Cortisol is a hormone that is vital for life, but when in excess it can lead to weak immunity, impaired brain function, panic attacks or high levels of anxiety and fear, lower bone density, muscle loss, and sleep problems.
If cortisol stays spiked too long and too often, it can lead to depletion, which can result in loss of energy and stamina, chronic fatigue, inability to cope, blood sugar dysregulation, chronic pain, inflammation, allergies and autoimmune disorders.
Like humans, microbes have nutritional needs. When they inhabit the human body, they steal our nutrients for their survival. Supplementation of nutrients they require can provide them with the food they need to proliferate.
Estrogen is another essential hormone, but when in excess it leads to estrogen dominance and symptoms like anxiety, irritability, rage, headaches or migraines, ovarian cysts, blood sugar problems, muscle cramps and more.
There’s a wide variety of genetic mutations that can affect how one will respond to a particular nutrient in a supplement. A nutrient that helps one condition can exacerbate another condition. It may be necessary to address issues in a particular order. This issue is beyond the scope of this article, so we will not be covering in detail. I suggest you take a look at Autism: Pathways for Recovery, by Dr. Amy Yasko for more in depth information on this topic.
Most Common Nutrients that can be Problematic
Please note this list is not complete. These are some of the most common supplements to cause a problem and I will likely update the list periodically when more come to light. If you know of some that are not on the list, you can send them to me in the comments section below and I’ll add it to the post.
Glutamine, Glutamic Acid, GABA, Cysteine, Aspartate, Aspartic acid, Glutathione
All of these can increase glutamate.
People who are vulnerable to anxiety, sympathetic dominance or dysautonomia, advanced adrenal fatigue, MCS, autism, insomnia, OCD, addiction, or any condition associated with excess glutamate, should watch out for these.
Amino Acid Formulas or Protein Powders
Can increase glutamate and norepinephrine.
Undermethylators, people prone to anxiety, sympathetic dominance or dysautonomia, advanced adrenal fatigue, autism, insomnia, OCD, addiction, multiple chemical sensitivities, or any condition associated with excess glutamate or excess sympathetic nervous system activity, should be aware of this potential.
It is also a very concentrated form of casomorphins. Casomorphins are morphine like substances that occur naturally in whey and casein. Some people have problems breaking down casomorphins and they can lead to a host of psychological disturbances like OCD, depression, eating disorders, autism, schizophrenia, psychoses, and addiction. People with any of these conditions should consider the impact of whey. You can read more about casomorphins here.
Again, anyone with addiction issues, anxiety disorders, autism, insomnia, sympathetic dominance or dysautonomia, advanced adrenal fatigue, MCS, OCD, or any condition associated with excess glutamate or casomorphins, should exercise caution with whey.
May increase cortisol and norepinephrine.
People with adrenal fatigue, high cortisol, prone to anxiety, undermethylators, insomnia, or any condition associated with excess sympathetic nervous system activity should be aware of this potential
Tryptophan can go down one pathway and create serotonin. However, it can go down another pathway and become quinolinic acid. If one is experiencing high levels of inflammation (immune stimulation), stress, or infection, it can drive tryptophan to be converted mostly into quinolinate instead of serotonin. High levels of quinolinic acid are neurotoxic, which can cause a myriad of problems in the brain and nervous system.
Tyrosine or Phenylalanine
Both can increase norepinephrine.
Phenylalanine is converted into tyrosine.
Tyrosine is converted into dopamine and dopamine is converted into norepinephrine and then norep is converted into epinephrine and burnt off. If you do not convert your norepinephrine into epinephrine quick enough, then norepinephrine can become elevated.
This supplement is usually an issue for people who are undermethylators. Methylation is required to convert the norepinephrine into epinephrine. So undermethylators as well as people with conditions like anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, adrenal fatigue, sympathetic dominance, should be careful with these nutrients.
Some types of probiotics can increase histamine and d-lactate. Both histamine and D-lactate are neurotoxic when in excess.
If SIBO is present, and the overgrowth involves friendly bacteria, then probiotics can exacerbate this condition.
People with high histamine, SIBO, or elevation in D-lactate should exercise caution with probiotics.
Furthermore, in severe dysbiosis, organisms present in a probiotic can become pathogenic. This includes the soil based organisms as well.
Can increase glutamate. Particularly when taken without magnesium, or in a high dose.
In people who tend to lean towards excess glutamate, it can increase glutamate.
Taurine or GABA
Increases GABA, but because of the GABA shunt, GABA is turned back into glutamine, which gets converted into glutamate.
People who have problems converting their glutamate to GABA may have a problem here with an elevation of glutamate.
Can also cause complications for people who have CBS or SUOX genetic mutations.
This is a glutamate analog. If you have problems converting your glutamate to GABA, it can result in excess glutamate.
May also contain trace amounts of fungi or caffeine.
Plant Based Digestive Enzymes
Most are derived from a fungi.
These can be problematic for people with Candida or mold issues.
Is a major food source for bacteria. Can cause significant deterioration in health for people with SIBO or bacterial overgrowth in the colon.
Anyone with SIBO or conditions related to SIBO like IBS, GERD, acid reflux, heart burn, or other types of bacterial overgrowth should avoid this supplement. Learn more about resistant starch to understand this issue completely.
Very high in phytoestrogens, which increases estrogen levels.
Anyone who is estrogen dominant should be cautious. People with Candida are often estrogen dominant, so they should be aware as well.
Is a high histamine substance.
Anyone with high histamine should be aware of this issue.
Candida uses magnesium for survival, morphogenesis and construction of the biofilm. All other microbes use magnesium for biofilm construction as well. Oral magnesium supplementation may contribute to overgrowth.
People with Candida or other microbial overgrowth should be aware of this potential issue.
In addition to magnesium, many microbes use calcium, zinc and iron for survival and biofilm development. Supplementation can contribute to overgrowth.
All species of Candida need biotin for survival. Therefore, supplementation can cause proliferation in overgrowth.
Other B Vitamins
Candida glabrata and a variety of other candida species use B6 for their survival. Some species and strains of Candida use thiamine and B3 for survival. Therefore, these B vitamins can cause proliferation of Candida.
Some Vegetarian Capsules
Some vegetarian capsules contain an ingredient that triggers glutamate. I am not sure what the substance is, as it isn’t listed, but I’m sure of its impact on glutamate.
Supplements that Incite Die Off or Mobilize Toxins
Anything that is taken to kill a microbe or mobilize toxins has the potential to increase norepinephrine, glutamate or histamine, because of toxicity, die off and setting off the stress response system.
Increases norepinephrine and cortisol. Even people who aren’t producing enough cortisol can have problems here, particularly when they have advanced stage adrenal fatigue, because it is too stimulating and will cause more deterioration.
For reasons not understood, some people can have the complete opposite effect than is expected with this supplement, including depression, anxiety, paranoia, and fear.
Choline or Lecithin
Feeds bacteria and Candida.
Can feed some species of Candida and bacteria. It is also too stimulating for most people with advanced stage adrenal fatigue.
Vitamin D increases calcium levels. As mentioned previously, if calcium is elevated relative to magnesium, it can increase glutamate.
Is a MOA inhibitor and, therefore, can increase norepinephrine. It also decreases histamine, which could be problematic for someone who has low histamine.
Any supplement that contains an ingredient you have a sensitivity or allergy towards has the potential to increase norepinephrine, because this will set off the stress response system.
Herbs that can be Counterproductive
Most herbs have some impact on neurotransmitters in the brain. Additionally, they can affect other organs and systems and be accompanied by a wide variety of other side-effects. Therefore, there is always the potential for a negative reaction with an herb and I will not go into this category in detail in this discussion.
Furthermore, it’s important to distinguish the difference between herbal formulas and nutritional supplements. Herbs are not nutrients and they are not assimilated by the body in the same way. Herbs are natural drugs and seen by the body as such. Just because something is natural does not mean it is safe or free of side-effects. Supplementing with herbs should be done in the same manner as a pharmaceutical, with caution and being aware of potential problems prior to consumption.
Any herb that is used as an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication will ultimately lead to more depletion an imbalance in neurotransmitters. The brain responds to herbs in the same manner as it responds to pharmaceutical based substances that target neurotransmitters, with downregulation or reduced responsiveness of said neurotransmitter.
Although you should be cautious with all herbs, I do want to highlight a few of the most important that can produce the results we are discussing today.
St. John’s Wort – increases norepinephrine.
Olive Leaf – is an MOA inhibitor that can increase norepinephrine and phenylethylamine (another excitatory neurotransmitter).
Neem – lowers blood sugar very significantly, which would set off stress response system.
Cinnamon – increases histamine.
Ginseng – is an amphetamine that will elevate norepinephrine.
Licorice – increases cortisol and norepinephrine. This can be counterproductive even for some people who are not producing adequate levels of cortisol (usually advanced stage adrenal fatigue), because it is too stimulating, which weakens the adrenals even further. The same is true for adaptogenic herbs in people with advanced stage adrenal fatigue.
Berberine – inhibits the enzyme known as acetylcholinesterase which is needed to break down acetylcholine, which allows acetylcholine to become in excess.
Assess and Adjust Accordingly
It’s also important to be aware that just because a particular nutrient is on this list, doesn’t mean it will be counterproductive for everyone. Some people can take these nutrients without any problem and they can be beneficial. If you don’t have any of the problems typically associated with the complication, then they may be perfectly acceptable. The people who tend to have the most issues with these supplements are usually those who are prone to experience dysautonomia (otherwise known as sympathetic dominance or excess sympathetic nervous system activity), anxiety disorders, advanced stage adrenal fatigue, insomnia, and undermethylators. Assess how you respond to each nutrient and adjust accordingly.
Additionally, in some cases, it may be necessary to weigh the benefit against the adverse effect. If there is a nutritional need that is greater than the risk of use, a person may choose to put up with a side-effect in order to reap a particular benefit.